Clara and Davie

Clara and Davie by Patricia Polacco is a nominee for the 2015-16 South Carolina Picture Book Award. This moving book tells readers of the early life of Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross.

Clara, the youngest of five children, had a very special bond with her brother, Davie. Davie encouraged Clara to be herself, he listened to her troubles, and he was always there for her. Even when others called Clara lazy or stupid because of her lisp, Davie looked for ways to make his little sister happy.

As Clara grew into a young woman, it became clear to all that she had a way with nature and healing. She loved working with flowers and spending time with animals, but her true gift was healing. She tended to animals and humans alike…and she was soon tasked with caring for her beloved brother, Davie.

Just as Davie supported her through difficult times, Clara was determined to help him during his troubles. She did everything she could to nurse him back to health, and her care worked wonders.

Clara Barton not only helped her brother to walk again, but, with his support and her own desire to help others, she also went on to become one of the greatest and most beloved medical practitioners in history.

Clara and Davie is a great addition to elementary library and classroom collections. This book would be a wonderful selection for women’s history studies, and it may even be an excellent gift for school nurses.

I also think Clara and Davie is a must-read for students who may struggle with speech (or any other) issues. This book demonstrates that those obstacles (for lack of a better word) don’t have to get in the way of doing something that truly makes a difference.

Gingersnap

Gingersnap by Patricia Reilly Giff is a nominee for the 15-16 South Carolina Children’s Book Award.

The year is 1944, and war continues to hold the world in its grips. Jayna knows it’s just a matter of days before her big brother Rob, the only family she has, will be deployed on a ship headed for the fighting in the Pacific. Jayna tries to put on a brave face, but she’s not happy about being separated from her brother once again, and she doesn’t want to live with Celine, their grumpy landlady, while Rob is away.

After Rob leaves for duty, Jayna is comforted by her turtle Theresa, cooking soup, and by an odd presence that seems vaguely familiar. Is this a ghost? If so, who is it, and what does it want with Jayna?

When Jayna receives the devastating news that her brother is missing in action, this “ghost” leads the girl back to their house and to an old box in a closet. There Jayna finds an old blue cookbook and the address of a Brooklyn bakery called Gingersnap (which happens to be Jayna’s nickname).

Jayna, though scared and unsure, sees the bakery’s name as a sign, and she packs up her turtle, the blue cookbook, and most of her belongings and sets off for an uncertain future and a grandmother she’s never known. Jayna is accompanied by the voice of her ghostly companion, and she eventually arrives in Brooklyn. What she finds there, however, may not be exactly what she expected.

Jayna is very confused about her current circumstances and what will happen to her should her brother never return. She likes being in Brooklyn and the friends she’s made, but what if Rob never comes back to her? What if he’s gone forever? Jayna seeks out her ghostly friend to give her some measure of help, but she doesn’t know if that will be enough to keep her brother safe or to preserve the little family she’s made for herself in Brooklyn.

What will become of young Jayna in this time of turmoil? Read Gingersnap by Patricia Reilly Giff to find out!

How to Steal a Dog

Georgina Hayes needs to find a way to make some quick money. Her dad left Georgina, her mom, and her little brother with almost nothing, and they’ve been living in their car for way too long. They need a home, but Georgina’s mom is working two jobs and still struggling to make the money needed to make a deposit on a house or apartment. Georgina knows there’s got to be a way to help her mom, but what is this young girl supposed to do?

Well, after seeing a reward poster for a missing dog, Georgina gets the bright idea to steal a dog. But it can’t be just any dog. It has to be a quiet, friendly dog. A dog that is loved by its owner. A dog that someone would pay a lot of money to get back.

Georgina writes down her dog-theft plan in her notebook, and, with the help of her little brother Toby, she puts her plan into action. She finds the perfect dog, nabs him, and waits for the reward posters to go up. But nothing really happens the way Georgina wants it to. She feels guilty about what she’s done, and the dog’s owner may not have enough money for a big reward. This sticky situation is quickly spiraling out of control, and Georgina doesn’t know which way to turn.

Can Georgina turn things around and get the money she and her family need? Will she do the right thing, or will she see her dognapping through to the bitter end? What will happen to make Georgina face all the wrongs in her life and do what she must to make things right? Read How to Steal a Dog by Barbara O’Connor to find out!

The Spindlers

Something is very wrong with Liza’s little brother, Patrick. Last night, he was his usual happy-go-lucky self. This morning, though, Patrick is different and wrong, and Liza is certain of what happened. The evil spindlers, spider-like creatures from Below, have stolen Patrick’s soul. It’s the only explanation. So what is Liza to do? Well, she’s going to rescue her brother’s soul, of course!

Liza braves the dark and finds an entrance to Below in her basement. Armed only with a broom, Liza enters this strange world in search of Patrick’s soul, but nothing could have prepared her for what she would face. Almost immediately, Liza encounters Mirabella, a talking rat who wears a wig, makeup, and a skirt made out of newspaper.

Mirabella helps Liza navigate this strange new world, with all of its dangers and mysteries. Mirabella introduces Liza to troglods, nids, lumer-lumpen, nocturni, and several other creatures that inhabit Below. Some of those creatures are helpful. Others…not so much. The trick is knowing which is which.

As Liza and Mirabella travel through Below, they are getting closer and closer to the spindlers’ nest…and to the captive souls within. The journey is becoming more perilous, but Liza is determined to rescue her brother before it’s too late.

Will Liza be able to get past her own fear of the the spindlers to do what she must? Who can she rely on when help is needed? Can Liza rescue her brother’s soul–and her own–before the spindlers get the best of her? Journey Below for these answers and more when you read The Spindlers by Lauren Oliver.

Cheesie Mack Is Running Like Crazy!

Warning! Read Cheesie Mack Is Not a Genius or Anything and Cheesie Mack Is Cool in a Duel before proceeding!

Ronald “Cheesie” Mack is about to enter a new world…middle school. Luckily, he’s got his best friend Georgie by his side, but how can Cheesie and company make an impression on students and teachers who are totally new to them? Cheesie thinks he may have the answer. Run for 6th grade class president!

But there may be a problem. Cheesie’s friend from elementary school, Lana, also wants to run for president. (You may recall that Lana is most definitely NOT Cheesie’s girlfriend!) Cheesie doesn’t want to hurt Lana’s feelings, but he does want to be known as something other than “June’s little brother.” What’s a kid to do? Well, Cheesie comes up with something that will satisfy almost everyone…

During all of the class election craziness, Cheesie also has to deal with his horrible sister, joining the school’s cross-country team, and generally learning to survive middle school. He encounters everything with the humor, wit, and intelligence that have gotten him out of jam after jam. The question is…will it be enough this time?

Find out how Cheesie, Georgie, and a charming cast of characters make it to the finish line when you read Cheesie Mack Is Running Like Crazy! by Steve Cotler!

All the Lovely Bad Ones

In All the Lovely Bad Ones, siblings (and all-around troublemakers) Travis and Corey are spending the summer with their grandmother at her inn at Fox Hill, Vermont. The Fox Hill Inn has a history of being haunted, but the kids’ grandma thinks that’s all a bunch of hokum. Travis and Corey, though, think a haunted inn might be just the thing to boost business, so they get it into their heads to make visitors believe that Fox Hill does have some ghostly residents. What starts out as a prank, however, quickly becomes more than either child ever bargained for…

Without realizing what’s happened, Travis and Corey have apparently awakened the real ghosts of Fox Hill. Some of the ghosts seem to be rather harmless–moving things around, pinching, pulling hair, setting mice loose in the kitchen, etc.–but there’s one ghost who terrifies all who encounter her (even other ghosts). This ghost seems to be malicious, and Travis and Corey soon realize that it’s up to them to find out who this ghost is and how to finally put her–and the other ghosts–to rest.

As Travis and Corey search for what really happened at Fox Hill in the past, they will encounter some disturbing truths. Fox Hill has a dark history, and they will have to make things right before the ghostly residents can have the peace they’ve long been denied. Will these two kids be able to give the ghosts of Fox Hill the rest they crave? Are all of the ghosts even willing to move on? Find out how the dead are finally put to rest–and how the living cope with the truth–when you read All the Lovely Bad Ones by Mary Downing Hahn.

After reading this book, it’s easy to see why so many of my students love it. It’s scary without being too terribly threatening, and good wins out in the end. (I’ve only read two of Mary Downing Hahn’s books at this point, but I assume that most, if not all, of her ghost stories are like this. It works.) This book may also convince young readers to research the concept poor farms or poorhouses and how the poor were–and still are–treated in society.

True (…Sort of)

True (…Sort of) by Katherine Hannigan brought to mind such favorites as The Great Gilly Hopkins and Maniac Magee.  This nominee for the 2012-2013 South Carolina Children’s Book Award tells the tale of Delly, a young girl who has a very close relationship with trouble.  (I have a feeling quite a few of my students will identify with Delly.)  No matter what she does, or how good her intentions might be, Delly gets into predicaments that get her labeled as a “bad kid.”  Now, Delly knows she’s not really bad, but the people around her are starting to make her think that she’ll never outrun the trouble that always seems to follow her.  With the arrival of a new kid in town, however, Delly may have a chance to turn everything around…

No one knows much about Ferris Boyd. The new kid never talks, can’t be touched, spends all her time alone, and is often mistaken for a boy.  Delly Pattison, though, sees Ferris Boyd as her way out of trouble.  When Delly–and her little brother RB–are with Ferris, trouble seems to stay away.  And Delly desperately needs to keep away from trouble, or her parents will send her to a reform school–or a reDellyformatory.

Even though Ferris doesn’t talk, Delly, Ferris, and RB find a way to communicate and form real friendships that will help all of them through the issues they’re facing.  Even though Delly is quite familiar with her own brand of trouble, Ferris is dealing with something much more serious…something that has robbed her of the ability or desire to speak.  With the help of Delly, RB, and Brud, another unlikely friend, Ferris will be able to come to terms with the fear that has held her captive.  And Delly will learn that some things–like the safety and well-being of a dear friend–are worth the risk of getting into a little trouble.

True (…Sort of) is a quick, often hilarious, read that will grip readers from the first page.  Delly is a character that is often misunderstood by those around her, something that nearly everyone can relate to on some level.  Her quest to stay out of trouble is admirable, and readers will rejoice in her successes, but they’ll also be wowed by Delly’s ability to find a bit of fun in the small things around her and turn even the most mundane things into Dellyventures.

I also think young readers will be inspired by Delly’s vocabulary.  Her made up words tell so much about her personality, and I hope that my students will create their own vocabulary to explain the truly unique things about their own lives.  (There is a “Dellyictionary” at the back of this book with a list of words and definitions for all of the words Delly uses throughout the book.)  Even the non-cuss words Delly makes up tell readers how unique–and creative–this character is.

Even though this book is lighthearted at times, it also deals with a serious issue.  This issue is personified in the character of Ferris Boyd, and it will be all too easy for readers to realize that something is really wrong in this young girl’s life.  Her selective mutism and aversion to touching tells everyone that this girl has been through something awful.  She may still be involved in something no child should ever have to deal with.  Delly sees what others don’t.  She sees that her friend is sad and afraid, and, even though Delly knows she’ll get into trouble for helping Ferris, she does what no one else has before.  She puts Ferris’ safety above everything, and that decision changes more than one life…for the better.

True (…Sort of) is a book that will resonate with readers of all ages, and it is my hope that we’ll all pay a little more attention to children who might otherwise be overlooked, especially the “troublemakers” and the “invisible.”  Sometimes, these are the kids who need us the most and who are just looking for their chance to shine.

For more information about True (…Sort of) and other books by author Katherine Hannigan, visit http://www.katherinehannigan.com/.